Maratha and British Arts in Western India, 1760-1820

Professor Shaffer has received a Getty-ACLS fellowship to complete her book on Maratha and British arts in Western India, 1760-1820. This project focuses on how Maratha military rulers and British East India Company officials used the arts to engage in diplomacy, wage war, compete for prestige, and generate devotion as they allied with, or fought against, each other to control western India. "What is fascinating about Maratha and British engagements," explains Shaffer, "is that they were not interested in promoting a recognizable style of art, like many other regional artists and rulers did. Instead, they mixed sources and traditions in order to speak to diverse audiences." 

Professor Shaffer's project focuses on the Marathas, who ruled western India in the eighteenth century, and the British East India Company officials resident there in the same period. She conceptualizes the intersection of art, diplomacy, war, prestige, and commerce in western India as "graft”—a term that acknowledges the violent and creative processes of suturing arts, and losing and gaining goods, as well as the shifting dynamics among agents who assembled such materials. By tracing grafted arts from multiple vantage points—Maratha and British, artist and patron, soldier and collector—the book charts the methods of empire-building that transformed artistic production and collection in western India and from there across India and Britain.

Shaffer says, "I'm using graft in every sense of its meaning: the grafting together of arts (like one would a sapling to a tree), graft to heal injuries (like skin on a wound), and graft as corruption or plunder. Graft, for me, points to artists' and collectors' innovative fusing of arts but also to the often troubling circumstances of their acquisition during the wars in western India in the late 18th and early 19th century."